中国社科院（ the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences）5月份公布的估算数据显示，中国影子银行的规模已经达到令人咋舌的4.4万亿美元，约为全国银行总资产的20%——它的体量足以抗衡正规银行系统，广度足以让它成为中国这个世界第二大经济体的关键影响因素之一。
作为国内金融机构的主要监管部门，中国人民银行（the People’s Bank of China）似乎乐于见到互联网金融（包括P2P贷款）改变中国的银行体系。同时，中国人民银行正在设法对这个领域实施一定的监管，同时为消费者提供保护。一些批评人士警告，如果中国的在线贷款和理财体系遭到打击，比如一家处于领先位置的电子商务企业或者互联网公司倒闭，结果必将引起恐慌，而且可能对主流银行业和整个经济产生严重影响。
It’s not an overstatement to liken China’s shadow banking system to an enormous beast. It exists outside regular lending channels. Somewhat ominously, it also lies beyond the control of the country’s powerful regulators.
Shadow banking in China has reached a staggering $4.4 trillion, or about 20 percent of the country’s total bank assets, according to estimates by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences published in May—substantial enough to rival the country’s formal banking system, and broad enough to be a key economic driver for the world’s No. 2 economy.
Increasingly China’s shadow banking is migrating online. There are now more than 2,000 websites such as Ppdai.com brokering peer-to-peer, or P2P, transactions. The idea is simple: People can lend their money to strangers for virtually anything—a new car, a wedding dress, inventory for a home-based business—and in return they enjoy rates of interest exceeding 20 percent, significantly better than the 3 percent they would earn by parking their money in a traditional Chinese savings account.
“P2P as a platform efficiently matches the demand of investors looking for high return options with small and micro businesses who need quick funding but have been very much excluded from formal lending practices,” says Sandy Shen, research director in Gartner’s Shanghai office.
Online P2P lending is not unique to China and has an older history in the West. (One example of many:Lending Club, which offers personal loans and has accepted investment from Google GOOG 0.87% .) But the practice is finding its biggest audience in the world’s most populous nation after the country tightened bank credit in 2010 following a bout of stimulus spending to counter the global financial downturn.
Interestingly, the default rate on P2P micro-loans is only slightly higher than the bad-loans ratio reported by China’s biggest financial institutions.
“There are sincere and honest players that try to serve the borrowers and lenders in an efficient way,” Shen says. “Internet finance in general is a wake-up call to financial institutions that they can no longer sit back doing business as usual and expect profits keep rolling in.”
P2P lending, for example, is raising the cost for banks of acquiring funds. This in turn is forcing established lenders to experiment with interest rate liberalization and new business models.
The People’s Bank of China, the country’s main regulator of financial institutions, seems to like the fact that Internet-based finance (which includes P2P lending) is shaking up the country’s banking system. At the same time, it seeks to impose some regulatory authority over the sector and put consumer protections in place. A shock to China’s online lending and wealth-management system—such as the collapse of a leading e-commerce or Internet company and ensuing panic—could seriously damage mainstream banking and the economy as a whole, some critics warn.
“Financial regulation has failed to keep up with Internet finance’s rapid growth,” says Takeshi Jingu, a researcher at Nomura Research in Beijing. “From banks’ standpoint, the new online products could lead to an outflux of retail deposits and decreased fund sales.”
Still, it’s unlikely that Chinese authorities will unveil regulations for Internet finance anytime soon, Shen says.
“It will be very difficult. No country has been successfully doing that,” she says. “It will take a long time for the regulator to find the right approach.”